What Benghazi hearing could say about 2016 White House race
January 23rd, 2013
03:11 PM ET
5 years ago

What Benghazi hearing could say about 2016 White House race

Washington (CNN) - It was a sideshow, but a compelling sideshow nonetheless.

The main act was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's at times angry, at times emotional testimony on Wednesday at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's hearing on the September terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

But presidential politics was another storyline, thanks to three of the participants who might be harboring 2016 ambitions.

Clinton, the outgoing secretary of state, faces constant pressure from fellow Democrats to make another bid for her party's presidential nomination, even though she's said over and over that another run for the White House is not in the cards for her.

The other two were Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Both were elected in 2010 with strong support from the tea party. Paul has publicly stated that he's considering a bid for the 2016 GOP nomination. Rubio has not been as expressive, but is considered someone who also has White House ambitions.

The two senators were polar opposites in their questioning of Clinton during the hearing, which may say something about both men's possible strategies towards 2016.

Rubio went first, stating, "We all wish that this had never happened so this hearing would never have to happen. But we're glad to see you here and wish you all the best," before asking, "One of the things that I'm interested in exploring with you is how information flows within the State Department and in particular in hindsight looking forward how we can prevent some of this happening."

Clinton was gracious in her answer, saying up front that, "I appreciate your kind words. And I reiterate my taking responsibility."

While understated, Rubio's three questions probed whether Clinton had inquired into security for U.S. diplomats in Libya in the year leading up to the attacks.

Paul didn't so much question Clinton as confront her.

"I'm glad that you're accepting responsibility. I think ultimately with your leaving you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11. And I really mean that," declared Paul, adding that, "Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you from your post. I think it's inexcusable."

While Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin asked tough questions, Paul's comments stood out.

But when he finally asked a question, it was whether the U.S. was involved in the transfer of weapons from Libya to Turkey.

Clinton appeared almost bemused by the question, saying: "To Turkey? I'll have to take the question to the record. No one ever raised that with me."

So which strategy was more effective?

"Rand Paul will never have to worry about winning a general election for president of the United States," said Republican strategist and CNN contributor Alex Castellanos. "Even though it might make the entire party look unreasonable, he can attack Democrats until the libertarians in the GOP base foam at the mouth and it is all to his advantage."

"Marco Rubio has a different and more serious hand of cards to play. He may not only compete in a general election, he may lead the nation someday. He has to demonstrate that he is a potential president and not a partisan politician. If you want to be president, you have to act like someone who could represent the entire nation," added Castellanos, who served as a media strategist for seven presidential campaigns and who co-founded Purple Strategies, a bipartisan public affairs firm.

Another GOP strategist, who asked to remain anonymous so he could speak more freely, said that each senator had a different mission: "This is a classic case of the tortoise and the hare, with Marco Rubio more concerned about gaining traction than garnering headlines, as Paul's questioning is sure to do."

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean says that Clinton's poll numbers may be behind Rubio's strategy.

"Senator Rubio understands that Hillary Clinton has very high ratings and the Benghazi crisis has not damaged her image or credibility among American voters. For a 2016 general election, Rubio must get back the lost share of female voters from the last election, so why not let other Senators such as Rand Paul and John McCain go after her?" asks Bonjean, who served as a top adviser to Republican leaders in the House and Senate before co-founding a public affairs firm.

Clinton did come to the hearing equipped with some very high public opinion numbers.

According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday morning, just a few hours before the outgoing secretary of state testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the morning and before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the afternoon, two-thirds of Americans said they have a favorable impression of Clinton, while just over one in four saying they have a unfavorable impression.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released last week indicated that nearly seven in ten approved of the job Clinton was doing as America's top diplomat, with just a quarter of the public saying they disapproved.

But both surveys pointed to a partisan divide, with nearly all Democrats and two thirds of independents, but only a minority of Republicans, giving Clinton a thumbs up. But that partisan divide is not nearly as wide as it is in polling of President Barack Obama.

In the end, all three possible 2016 candidates got something out of this hearing.

Could this 2013 hearing about a terrorist attack in 2012 be one of the opening acts in the 2016 election? And will we see clips from the hearing in 2016 campaign commercials?

- CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this report

Filed under: 2016 • Hillary Clinton
soundoff (156 Responses)
  1. Sean

    Hey, otlset – stop talking to yourself.

    Rand Paul is a joke and the idea of him as a presidential contender is completely laughable. The "worst tragedy since 9/11"? Was ol' Randy asleep during those ten or so embassy attacks that happened under Bush? What a clown.

    January 23, 2013 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  2. Gonzo

    The press' drumbeat to get Hillary elected in 2016 has already started. It is so transparent that it is almost comical! On a different note, Hillary said Al Qaeda is on the rise. The president said during the campaign that it was "on the run". So, which is it? Just another Obama nugget! Notice how the press doesn't cover it? And on and on it goes.

    January 23, 2013 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  3. Anthony in California

    @Rick McDaniel
    There won't be much left of America to preside over, by 2016.

    Obama will have destroyed most of America, by then.

    Like he's done the last 4 years? Yet you are still here..... FAIL.

    January 23, 2013 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  4. Anthony in California

    Hillary 1
    Republicans 0

    Benghazi (after the fact cover up) = 4 dead.
    WMDs (lie for Oil) = 4000 Americans dead.

    This witch hunt just made the Republicans look like the bitter, angry, delusional white party that they are.

    January 23, 2013 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  5. norma jean

    "Borderless" says this is one of the most corrupt administrations ever""...All I can say to that is that he must be very young because this administration has a lot going for it compared to any number previously that he just doesn't understand or hasn't heard of!.. Pick up a history book "B" and find out just how much has happened over the years...You really need help!!!

    January 23, 2013 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  6. steve

    I love the Teacups. Long may they live! The Rands, Rons, Ryans,Erics, Michelles, and of course, Sarahs give us all the joy of the theater of the absurd not to mention two legs way up on a very long run of Democratic presidents. Thanks y'all!

    January 23, 2013 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  7. Mary1972

    It is doubtful Rand Paul will win the GOP nomination for president. But, he will never win the general election.

    January 23, 2013 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  8. Mary1972

    To dc:
    You didn't have any problem with:
    - security lapse to prevent 9/11.
    - The WMD myth that led to Iraq war that caused the deaths of over 3000 US soldiers.
    - The embassy attacks during Bush years.
    Did McCain and Co question Condi??

    January 23, 2013 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  9. ThinkAgain

    @dc: "What difference does it make? The Dems have the power and the ability to sweep ANYTHING under the rug....."

    You're probably one of those folks who believe President Obama "watched" the Americans at the consulate die, that he "let" them die.

    Why would he do that so close to the election? Wouldn't it have been much, MUCH better for him to have prevented any loss of life and then used that to bolster his Commander in Chief credentials?


    January 24, 2013 01:11 am at 1:11 am |
  10. ThinkAgain

    @Sniffit: "Someone want to list all the embassy attacks under Bush that resulted in even more deaths and that occurred between 9/11 and today?"

    Ask and ye shall receive ...

    2002 U.S. Embassy Karachi, Pakistan: 10 killed, 51 injured
    2004 U. S. Embassy bombed in Uzbekistan: 2 killed, several injured.
    2004 U.S. Consulate Saudi Arabia: 8 killed
    2006 US. Embassy Syria: 1 killed, several injured
    2007 U.S. Embassy -Athens: building bombed with an anti-tank grenade...fortunately no one was in the building at the time.
    2008-U.S. Embassy – Serbia: 1 dead; Embassy set on fire
    2008- U. S. Embassy- Yemen- bombed 10 killed

    And who can forget the Marines barracks bombing October 23, 1983 in Beirut, Lebanon that killed 241 Americans? Under St. Reagan's watch, no less. And his response? He high-tailed us out of there.

    Apparently, Repubs can forget all of this ...

    January 24, 2013 01:17 am at 1:17 am |
  11. ThinkAgain

    @hmm.........."Why do we want a President that will be so old, has done nothing but politics in their life, and has no experince in being middle class."

    When you go to the doctor or seek out any skilled professional, do you specifically look for the one with the least experience?

    And I thought there was nothing wrong with coming from a family of means? At least Hilary has experience working for the betterment of others, everything from migrant workers to representing our country on the world stage.

    I doubt there is anything she could do or say to win you over, so I'm done wasting my breath ....

    January 24, 2013 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  12. stanford_gal

    Ever since Hillary claimed that she ran from sniper fire in Bosnia, I can not believe a word she says. Her spokesman had to explain that she "misspoke" about the peaceful visit, after video clearly contradicted her lie.

    January 24, 2013 01:37 am at 1:37 am |
  13. LIbertyGuy

    My god we just finished the last douche race and now the media is ready for the next. I guess we have to start getting the public tuned in to the next round of mind numbing elections and stop worrying about the hear and now. We lose if either democrats or republicans take office. THEY HAVE BEEN IN POWER FOR OVER A HUNDRED YEARS AND WE THE PEOPLE HAVE LOST EVERY TIME.

    January 24, 2013 01:46 am at 1:46 am |
  14. zizewitz


    Independently of her qualification, her AGE and HEATH seem not to be obstacle for any activity EXCEPT PRESIDENT.

    The fact of her exhaustion and loss of concieness, which assuredly was in a good percentage mental , in addition to physical, due her grueling activities, And such is also the case,possibly more so, for a first pre-candidate, then candidate and finally 4 year Presidential term, which shew would end at age 73. And with the addition of her tendency to develop blood clots, which she was lucky that such didn't affected directly the brain

    To submit herself to such ordeal, would be an invitation to disaster. The risk would be moderate, BUT MUCH TO HIGH FOR A PRESIDENT. And sure enough, this would be exploited by the GOP, much more so by the outrageous Tea Party.

    January 24, 2013 01:51 am at 1:51 am |
  15. Don

    I had a lot respect for John McCain before this. Now he comes off as just another partisan politician trying to stay relevent in a changing political landscape. Rand Paul should have a zipper on his lips. He has never been relevent.

    January 24, 2013 05:58 am at 5:58 am |
  16. Marie MD

    @dc and the forever clueless rickmc – the shrub #43 is still sweeping lies under the rug and they are responsible for close to 5000 American deaths and hundreds in Iraq. The country will be stronger by 2016.
    On the other hand, what the rethugs (johnson, mcnasty, curly top and the AF pilot among other rethugs from red states) showed us is that Hillary can not only play with the boys but win the fight.
    Why didn't any of them come out after 9/11 to ask the war criminals of the shrub's administration when said administrastion knew darn well that bin laden was planning to fly planes into buildings? Right, because it was a repugnant president.
    Wake up folks, the rethugs on the state level are changing our electoral college on the state level.

    January 24, 2013 06:28 am at 6:28 am |
  17. Jack in Florida

    It will be a non issue, as the Republicans are making themselves, irrelevant. Unless the Republicans field a moderate, middle of the road candidate, Hillary has it made in 2016!!!!!! She is a real class act, with lots of smarts!!!! As Boehner put it the other day, the Dems want to annihilate the Republicans. So be it, but they Republicans are annihilating themselves!!!

    January 24, 2013 06:32 am at 6:32 am |
  18. Red Dog

    That lady's got moxie. She stood up to the GOP bullies and pretty much told them to stuff their "blame game" bs. Good for her. I like her better all the time.

    January 24, 2013 06:33 am at 6:33 am |
  19. bear

    Not having seen the entire I did learn one thing none of them were a match for Hillary.My advice to the Senators of Teaparty affiliation do not ever get into a debate with Sen Elizabeth Warren she will make you look like Rick Perry.

    January 24, 2013 06:35 am at 6:35 am |
  20. yolanda

    4 people are dead because of the failure of our State Department to protect them. Clinton is the Secretary of State, therefore she should be held accountable. It would be more of a travesty if no hearings were held. Flawed and partisan as they might be, the hearings, for the sake of our democracy, and for the sake of the 4 dead Americans, are necessary. Maybe if people like @ Sniffit could take the time to direct their energy and intelligence toward something constructive, rather than beating the same dead horse, we might start healing as a country......

    January 24, 2013 06:35 am at 6:35 am |
  21. Washington Is Out Of Touch with reality

    protect obama and lie to congress, see this is the democrats ways

    January 24, 2013 06:38 am at 6:38 am |
  22. sifto

    I don't know which was worse–the planned fake tears or the blatant lies and elitist attitude about the 4 Americans who died–i supported Hilary in 2008–not in 2016–, i can't understand how Obama is getting off scot-free–I do admire her toughness for taking the fall Obama–he, after all, is where the buck stops....He partied for 2 nights with the rich while she was falling on his sword.....so far, 2 women were ruined by one man for not taking responsibility..Obama...Hilary and Susan Rice....

    January 24, 2013 07:12 am at 7:12 am |
  23. Colleen Kelly Mellor

    Im more reacting toSteinhauser's phrasing (he's author of this article) characterizing Hillary Clinton's hearing:: 'at times angry...at times emotional." Oh, there's that infamous buzzword 'emotional,' as in she responded so-like-a-woman. One never sees that word used in reference to men, no matter how worked up they get. I, for one, liked Hillary's spirited response, putting everyone in his place. I bet it just felt good for her to release her pent-up frustration and turn it all back on them...suggsting they posture and play at stupid partisan games–which they do.

    January 24, 2013 07:40 am at 7:40 am |
  24. jnpa

    As I have said many times, this Benghazi issue was a tragedy, but is now being played out as a political stepping stone for the GOP. Rand was obnoxious, pure and simple! He was typical tea party and has no chance of winning the GOP nomination for POTUS, let alone an election in 2016. Rubio did not appear to be too bad, but Duncan and Johnson were also a bit rude with political aspirations. It really is sickening to see the GOP act this way toward the Secretary of State for their own personal agenda. I am ashamed to even acknowledge they are members of Congress!

    January 24, 2013 07:45 am at 7:45 am |
  25. Donna

    What impressed me about the hearing is that she sat there and answered question after question after question. After years of listening to "I don't recall" being the go to answer in these type of horse and pony shows paraded before the American public I found her refreshing.

    January 24, 2013 07:54 am at 7:54 am |
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